Set against the refugee crisis in Calais, Happy End concerns itself with a well-to-do family who own a construction business. Patriarch Georges (Trintignant) fears Alzheimer's is setting in and so has passed on the company to daughter Anne (Huppert), who hopes her unhinged son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) will get his act together and help her. Meanwhile, Anne's doctor brother Thomas (Kassovitz) takes in his depressed thirteen-year-old daughter Eve (Harduin) while his ex-wife recovers in hospital…
In many ways this is typical Haneke. Happy End tackles heavy themes head-on, hints at others, and doesn't shy away from asking tough questions. He observes family dysfunction and the privilege of the prosperous from a distance and without commentary: the opening scene is shot from a camera phone and from down the hall; another scene, shot from across the street so we can't hear what is said, has Georges attempt to convince refugees to help him with a specific problem (one we can only assume). Subtle layers of information on characters allow the audience to reassess what they have learned thus far. Big developments – like a death – can happen off screen.
There will be an instinct to laud this with praise all this for no other reason than it's Haneke but there's always a danger of reviewing a director's filmography than the actual film on the screen: It's Haneke ergo it's great. Not so this time. Haneke has out Haneked himself. Everything is just too chilly and distant and removed. This is Haneke's style but there's little here to burrow into and experience.
There were a myriad of stories to explore that would have allowed some emotional engagement: Georges' desire to end his life (his attempts to persuade his personal barber to do the deed is a wonderful scene) or Pierre's mental health problems that threaten to derail the established company or Thomas' attempts to make his daughter welcome as he starts a new life with a new wife. But Haneke hops from one story to the next without ever really exploring any in the detail worthy of them. When it's a struggle to care for the well-being of a thirteen-year-old girl then that's not on me, that's on the director. And what Toby Jones (playing a lawyer and Huppert's fiancé) brings to the party is a mystery.